Ag News

Sens. Ossoff, Tillis introduce bill to reverse AEWR increase

by Compiled by Jay Stone

Posted on Mar 22, 2023 at 0:00 AM

The last few months have seen numerous changes to the H-2A program including hundreds of pages of rule updates, survey results and wage changes. While the majority of changes can negatively impact fruit and vegetable producers, the 14% increase in the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) will have an immediate and dramatic impact by costing Georgia growers an estimated $120 million in additional wages.

Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Georgia) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) introduced S. 874 (the Farm Operations Support Act) to direct the U.S. Secretary of Labor to modify the implementation of the adverse effect wage rate for H-2A nonimmigrants.

The American Farm Bureau Federation (ABFB) urged Congress to pass the bill, which would reverse the 14% increase for 2023 by reinstating the 2022 rate through the end of 2023.

“The AEWR formula is imposing on Georgia farmers a sudden and massive increase in costs. The whole country depends upon Georgia farmers for food supply. I’m leading this bipartisan legislation to prevent damage to Georgia’s agricultural producers,” said Ossoff, who heard from Georgia Farm Bureau members during a March 1 meeting in Washington regarding how the increase would wreak havoc on farmers’ budgets.

In a March 17 press release, the AFBF said the bill would provide much-needed wage relief to farm families and give Congress an opportunity to deliver a fair and reasonable solution.

“Farmers are committed to paying their employees a fair wage, but the new AEWR rule used flawed data to reach a flawed conclusion. Requiring farmers to pay their workers far more than the average domestic worker is earning just makes no sense, especially in the face of high supply costs, inflation and a global food shortage,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said.

According to AFBF, the 2023 AEWR rule missed the mark by such a wide margin that farmers in some states experienced required wage increases of more than 10% after smaller increases last year. Furthermore, DOL’s newly published rule in February 2023 will raise costs even higher for certain occupations on farm. Additionally, the AEWR has significantly outpaced increases in the national average wage for most workers in America for most of a decade. In fact, it has outpaced the overall U.S. Employment Cost Index in eight of the last 10 years.

Tillis said the massive wage increase is in addition to a number of other financial challenges facing American farmers.

“From crippling labor shortages to skyrocketing input costs, farmers in North Carolina and across the country are facing unprecedented challenges,” said Senator Tillis. “The H-2A visa program has long been a last-resort option for farmers as a legal and reliable source of labor to plant, grow, and harvest their crops; however, the wage rate farmers are required to pay by the Department of Labor has long outpaced the rate of inflation and become unsustainable. This year’s increase has only exacerbated the current national labor crisis. While our farmers need broader programmatic reforms, this necessary legislation will give temporary relief to their rapidly rising input costs while maintaining worker pay and protections and allow U.S. farmers to continue doing what they do best, producing the safest, most abundant and affordable supply of food and fiber in the world.”

The Department of Labor has published a new set of Frequently Asked Questions pertaining to the 2022 and 2023 H-2A rule changes. The FAQs can be found here:

Full text of the bill can be viewed here.

More information about the labor challenges facing agriculture can be found here.

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